KENAI (AP) -- Commercial salmon setnetting and driftnetting ended this week for the east side of upper Cook Inlet and some fishermen and state regulators said the catch outperformed the past two years.
''Lately, there's been really slow fishing,'' setnetter Pat Kelly said of recent seasons. ''So it hasn't been really profitable. But we had a good year this year.''
The official word from Fish and Game also was positive for the the east side of upper Cook Inlet below the West Forelands.
''It's actually been better than the last two seasons,'' said commercial management biologist Jeff Fox of the overall salmon season. ''It was a little less than '99.''
As of Tuesday, he told the Peninsula Clarion, the number of sockeyes in the inlet had been counted at a little more than 2.75 million. The count in 2000 was 1.3 million, and in 2001 it was 1.8 million.
The 1999 total salmon counted was 2.76 million. The total catch for that year was estimated at more than 8 million pounds of fish, worth more than $22 million, according to Commercial Fishing Entry Commission figures.
''The big difference was that in '99 they were paid $1.30 per pound. This year was right about 55 cents per pound,'' Fox said. ''That's a big, big difference.''
Some fishermen say they've had enough.
''I can't make ends meet by myself,'' said Kenai setnetter Janine Carlough.
Her husband, Joe Carlough, was killed in an automobile accident two years ago and she had to use an emergency transfer to let someone fish the site. She said she cannot make enough money with just her own site to make fishing profitable for herself and her two children, so she is trying to sell both her permit and her husband's.
She is among 86 Cook Inlet commercial setnetters and driftnetters trying to sell permits. The Carloughs bought the permits in 1996 for $176,000 and took out a state loan for $32,000.
Fishing has not earned her enough to pay into the debt, and her investment is just the beginning of the costs.
''That's not paying for the boat, the fuel or paying the crew,'' Carlough said. ''I will take anything to pay the state debt.''
She is asking $40,000 for the two sites 2.5 miles north of Kasilof.
''I'm going to lose my shirt selling both of them,'' she said.
With the average setnet sites valued at roughly $8,500 in the Commercial Fishing Entry Commission's latest estimates, that price may be difficult to come by.
''There are people who want to (buy) it, but I want cash for it, and they can't do that,'' Carlough said. ''You need a site to fish, but the state doesn't recognize it as collateral. Neither does a bank. You're basically stuck.''
Some fishermen have found other ways to market their salmon in the struggling industry.
Juanita Meier, co-owner of R and J Seafoods, fishes and purchases fish to process and sell direct to tourists from the company's Kalifornsky Beach Road location.
''We thought that if the market really went bad, we could just sell our fish to people that come by,'' she said.
Setnetter Pat Kelly and partner Lowell Miller took advantage of people driving by their small shop, Salmon Cache, at Mile 19 Kenai Spur Highway to sell fresh fish.
But the two, who have fished their sites for 14 years, will be leaving the state to return to homes Outside. Both were full-time residents, but they moved because of scant earnings from fishing, Miller said.
''We're not making enough money to justify spending a lot of time here,'' Miller said. ''We thought about (quitting) for years. We just miss running our business and seeing our friends. Besides, who's going to buy our permits?''
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.